Unshakable Hope

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

Living Like You’re Dead

The title of this blog might seem like an oxymoron, but I hope to convince you otherwise.

I have come close to death several times even before ALS entered my life 21 years ago. With each brush with death, the more I am able to identify with death and eternity and live my life accordingly.

You might think that viewing my life as having one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel would be a depressing way to live, but I’ve discovered just the opposite; it’s a very liberating way to live, at least, from a Christian point of view. I think it’s also the viewpoint that Christ intended us to have.

In the days leading up to Christmas every year, Mary and I always watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” and the 1951 version (the best version) of “A Christmas Carol.” After watching these movies this last Christmas, I was thinking about why I love these two holiday classics. I concluded that it was because, in each of these movies, the central character learns about what’s really important in life after seeing themselves as dead.

Virtually every morning when I wake up, I remind myself that this might be my last day on earth. I am a long way from perfecting this, but I try to let this reality govern every aspect of my life. Before ALS, even though I was a Christian and was supposed to be “eternally minded,” I’m ashamed to admit that I did not always allow my own mortality to influence my daily life. Even back then in 1996 when I was diagnosed, before smartphones, Facebook and so many other distractions and time-wasters, it was so easy to lose focus on the realities of life.

The Apostle Paul said, “I die daily.” (1 Corinthians 15:31). It was miraculous that Paul lived to be an old man. He had come close to death so many times. Even after suffering through numerous trials and brushes with death, Paul lived his life with joy, peace, hope, contentment and so many other spiritual and emotional strengths we all long for. Yet, he seemed to go through a daily exercise of visualizing himself nailed to a cross:


“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20).

Many well-meaning Christians have empathized with me by saying things like “ALS is a heavy cross (for you) to bear…” I’m thankful for everyone who empathizes with my having to go through this horrible trial that has cost me my career, my health and so much more. But this trial is not “my cross to bear.” I took up my cross the 35 years ago when I made a commitment to follow Christ.

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits his own soul?” (Luke 9:23-25)

In today’s narcissistic “selfie” culture, “Denying yourself” is a tough message to sell. Christianity, true Christianity, has always been a counter-cultural belief system. But in a society where just about anything goes, those who make a commitment to follow Christ, to live like they’re dead, are today’s ultimate rebels.

Buying into this living like you’re dead life will cost you everything you’re holding onto, but the benefits are joy, peace and unshakable hope; hope that will carry you through trials, temptation, and tribulation.

“Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:2-3)

Thanks for taking the time to read,
Bill
picture credit: https://jaytharding.com/

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86 thoughts on “Living Like You’re Dead

  1. Bill, I love your attitude. Your hope inspires me each time I read your blog. This especially spoke to me: ” …those who make a commitment to follow Christ, to live like they’re dead, are today’s ultimate rebels.”

    So true. The closer we get to His return, the crazier His followers will appear to the world. Crazy-love-in-Christ is the best. 🙂

    A dear friend of mine is battling cancer. Like you, she keeps her focus on God and is finding joy right in the middle of the uncertainty.

    Blessings to you & Mary ~ Wendy

  2. Well said, once you trust life to God and say take me when you want me Lord. The prince of the power of the air trump card is gone for him to shadow play with your life.

    Being a living sacrifice is difficult in real time. I sometimes want to walk off the alter. I forget the mighty work that was gifted me. Thank you Bill for the encouragement to stay on the alter.

    Keep being a blessing my Mighty warrior brother, you are strong in the battle. Keep up the effort and faint not, The battle belongs to the Lord.
    Denny

  3. Dortha Wiley on said:

    I’m 74 and was diagnosed with ALS last Oct. My problem began with slurred speech, difficulty swallowing liquids and breathing. My legs are getting weaker now. After the shock of the diagnosis and mourning the loss of the life I assumed I would have, God showed me how blessed I was. A pastor shared that as Christians, we should have joy, no matter the circumstances. That is my goal every day and I try to share it. Oh, I still have my down times, but then I realize how loved I am. I have a loving family, friends, church family and a great local medical team. I go every 3 months to a MDA ALS Clinic at Texas Neurology in Dallas, Tex. which is 2 1/2 hrs away from home. They have been fantastic and a blessing. I can see God working in so many people and so many ways. My husband is a great caregiver. God is good all the time.

    • Thank you for telling me your story, Dortha. I’m so sorry you have this horrible disease. I was diagnosed when I was 36, I’m now 57. As you can imagine, I am a pro when it comes to all things ALS. Something I never wanted to be, but I hope to use the lessons I’ve learned to help others going through trials. I’m thankful that, like me, you have a spouse that is a great caregiver.
      Feel free to email me, my new friend – Unshakablehope@gmail.com

  4. thank you for dropping by my blog and ‘liking’ my about page … because it drew me here to your place.

    i cannot remember the last time i was truly humbled and overwhelmed and blown away by another’s life, but i am reading about yours – not because of the als, but because of your heart through it all and your desire to not let it trap you in a lifeless life. and because you choose to live regardless.

    it is cliche, but you have ministered to my soul in ways i have needed.

    thank you.

  5. Brilliantly written and moving. God bless you. You are an inspiration.

  6. Hi Bill…thanks for the reminder. Sometimes we get so bogged down in the things life throws at us that we forget it could all be over in a second! To live with faith and to be aware of how precious life is…in every moment…yes…that is beautiful. Sending sweet blessings ❤

  7. With you in spirit, Bill. Still working on the flesh. I pray that passage from Luke regularly, and am very mindful of the fact that in it Jesus says, “Take up your cross DAILY.” Thanks as always for your wise counsel.

  8. Thank you for this.

  9. Pingback: Living Like You’re Dead | A disciple's study

  10. Nancy Turner on said:

    Thank you so much for all that you write. I know it takes great effort on your part to do so, and I just want to tell you how much it means to me. Sincerely, Nancy

    Sent from my iPhone

  11. Costing us everything–a concept that’s hard to understand, harder to embrace. Your words have once again given me much to think about. I truly appreciate your perspective–learning to say “no” to myself , denying myself, is one of the hardest things I can do Learning to do it with a grateful heart is harder yet. Thanks for the encouragement.

  12. What you are saying sounds much like the message of a very rich book by Andrew Murray. Have a look Bill:

    http://www.g4er.tk/books/murray_humility.pdf

  13. Allan Halton on said:

    Amen, Bill. “…As dying, and behold, we live…”

  14. Bill,
    Except for the specific circumstances i.e. you have ALS, I have M.S. you are married, I am single—it was like you were writing the truths that are in my heart of hearts. I also, am living like I am dead. If I highlighted the phrases that are REAL to me from your post – it would be all marked up. Thank YOU for writing. Sometimes I feel like others feel sorry for me because my life is so limited from their perspective In truth, I almost feel sorry for them.who may not know our Great God intimately who unceasingly and eagerly longs for us to know Him better. MS made me search for Him and I know the joy of living like we are dead . It is our Best life now YET we know we have a greater life ahead…it is our unshakable and prevailing hope.

    • I love your attitude/outlook! You have been down the same path as me, stripped of all the things that the world tells us will lead to happiness, yet we’ve found joy, peace and Unshakable Hope.

  15. Bill, I praise the Lord again for giving you the heart, spirit and words of one who is a living sacrifice, dying to self daily, as we all must do if we are a true follower of Christ. A better description of us who can see and focus on the end of all this, where our hope lies, is one on which a friend and I agree: one foot in heaven and one on earth, waiting for the final boost to our eternal home. You are in my daily prayers that you may continue to know His presence and power, love and grace with you and your family. Continual blessings in Him.

  16. Jennifer on said:

    I love you and thank you so much for your writings. So uplifting, encouraging and help me through! Helps me to continue to understand. I miss you all. Jenny Stepanski

  17. Ah, to be an ultimate rebel. I like the sound of that–to stand out from the crowd, to oppose cultural norms that conflict with scripture, to vocally represent OUR God, HIS Word. Of course we don’t have to be belligerent about it, but we mustn’t be cowed into silence either. Thank you, Bill, for challenging this 60-something retiree to be an ultimate rebel and live like I’m dead!

  18. Beautiful post Bill, as usual and it really got me thinking. I often hear from people who’ve been close to death and survived that they didn’t really start living until then. Granted not all of them were referencing dying to Christ but this new perspective at least offered a door way to it form an otherwise closed off heart.

    It’s a Wonderful Life and a Christmas Carol are favorites of mine too. Many blessings to you.

    • Thank you, Tricia. I have heard the same thing about people who have had a near death experience. I can say that, from my viewpoint, the things I used to fret about before coming close to death, seem so trivial now.

  19. Anonymous on said:

    You a good man Bill. I pray for you and your family daily.

  20. Amen! As a cancer survivor, I really relate to this. Thank you for sharing your heart. You encourage and inspire me!

  21. Thank you for a thought provoking post. We tend to push our mortality aside, and yet it would help us to focus more on the realities of life – as you said, and as you live.
    Your posts are always so tender and so encouraging. Blessings to you this day.

  22. This is such an encouragement to me. I am not dying easily, Bill (I so identify with what someone once said, “The problem with living sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar!”) … There are days I feel like I got it, I have given it all to Jesus and surrendered anew all my stuff … and then the kids get up and I realize it’s only seven in the morning :-/
    THANK you for this great reminder that I indeed am not living for myself anymore … In the end we will realize how worth it all was, when our Master and King will look and say, “Well done, my faithful servant!” Can you just imagine??? 🙂
    Sending love to you and Mary

    • “the problem with living sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar!” LOL 🙂
      you would think total surrender would be easier for a guy who is totally paralyzed, can’t speak or eat… But I’ve discovered that the roots of rebellion run very deep, at least in my case.
      Thanks, Heidi.

  23. Thank you so much. I always feel a little thrill of excited anticipation when I see that you have put up another post!!!

  24. Amen! It is difficult to die to ourselves daily.. but I believe Jesus will give us strength to do it..
    I have the same Christmas tradition.. I love the old movies that have a moral message..

    • It is difficult, Mary Ann, it takes intentionality, like all things in the category of discipleship.
      Before ALS, I only watched the old Christmas movies, but now I watch old movies more than new movies.

  25. Thank you Bill for taking the time to write this and for each moment you have lived this out. Your my inspiration. I know I will use these blogs as my go to place after the Bible. Thank you forerunner. Love from Australia my friend.

  26. jacquelinegwallace on said:

    Once again, Bill, this is an excellent post. Challenging; exactly what we need. What I need, every day. Thanks for spurring me, and all of us, on to love and good works.

  27. Dear brother;

    The Lord is not unrighteous to forget the good work you are performed toward His name. May God always give you the strength to endure, and to faithfully convey the message of the cross, as the Spirit leads you into verbalizing your experience through the lenses of Jesus, in ways that will penetrate our hearts.

    May this message reach the thousands in our narcissistic culture. I am not talking about those who are outside the fold, but those who are part of the fold of Christ, and yet are trapped in that love of self, at the very time when we are called to deny ourselves.

    Thank you and glory to God for your service.

    • Thank you so much for your encouraging message. I would be so happy if someone, even just one, made a commitment to follow Christ through reading one of my posts. But, as you said, I am primarily writing to strengthen and give hope to Christians.

  28. Anonymous on said:

    Good word, Bill.
    Kerry Shook’s book, “30 Days To Live” speaks along these lines, also.

  29. Bill, this is excellent! I love this part so much: “But this trial is not ‘my cross to bear.’ I took up my cross the 35 years ago when I made a commitment to follow Christ.”

    Amen wholeheartedly to that! This is how all of us in Christ ought to view our circumstantial (and temporary) difficulties. Well said!

  30. God bless you and your family Bill. You teach my heart hope. 😊❤️

  31. I am like the central characters in the two movies you mention, both my Christmas favorites. Grief is so overwhelming that on some days all I think about is eternity where my son, Brandon, now resides after what was deemed a suicide. I selfishly want him back but I realize he is better than well…he is perfect.

    Your message touches me deeply. Your plight…your “thorn” is one of those situations that is unimaginable. But, your hope and heartfelt words in the face of your disease is your light! Indeed, an optimistic example for all who have a “thorn” like the Apostle Paul….every single day until eternity….when Jesus calls. Thank you for sharing. May God give you peace and strength.

    • I read your story Brandon the other day, really sad. He is with the Lord. I think he would like for you, in his name, work to live your life with joy knowing that you will be with him again.
      “Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:23)

      • Thank you, for reading about Brandon who was on loan to us for not nearly long enough. I am his selfish mom who is eager to be gone from here and live eternally with Jesus and my son. I cringe when I write that to you, who is “living dead” and would probably grab life and live it fully functional and whole (in a bodily sense) if only you could… but you, my friend, are so much more alive than you realize. Your words…your spirit have life. I, on the other hand, feel like I am “living dead” on an emotional level on some days. Truly, I have better days now that the shock has lessened. I want to be a living sacrifice but as you say, I keep falling off the altar.

        I am very grateful for your personal testimony and how you are a living example of faith and hope. God bless you and your family. I am moved to be better because you have shared your heart.

        Dale…. Brandon’s mom.

      • Dale,
        I can relate to “keep falling off the altar,” but we have to keep crawling back up. Over time, we fall off less and crawling back up gets easier, that’s been my experience, at least. Hang in there, my friend.

  32. Anonymous on said:

    Such good stuff, Bill. Love you guys!

  33. A great reminder, especially in light of the current flu outbreak that is shockingly claiming the lives of strong, healthy people. We just never know how long we have to live and love.

  34. Lauren on said:

    Love this, daddy! Thanks for taking the time to write this!

  35. Maybe because I’m older, my thoughts do go to thoughts of life with God when we leave this one..

    It makes me wonder if I’m doing enough of what I should be doing in His eyes…
    Diane.

  36. Hi Bill, I can’t say that I know what you mean in the way that you do, because I’m not in the situation that you are in but I do understand what you have said. I agree with you about the Apostle Paul and I’ve thought about so many of the things you have mentioned. Dying to self is from my perspective what it ultimately is all about, at least from the perspective of having Christ live in us and of all the things that Jesus asked us to do, that undoubtedly is the hardest because it literally involves every aspect of the day that is before us, day after day. I also think that for most of us, we barely scratch the surface, we only come close at specific times. The other night I was thinking about the Apostle Paul being in prison, alone at night and how he would use that time. I know that Jesus sometimes spent the whole night in prayer and I wondered how Paul dealt with the reality of his situation. I have a gut feeling that it drew him closer to God also. It’s pretty hard to try to compare my life with his and I don’t think, realistically, that we’re even on the same ball field. Paul had a special calling and I think that you also are special, called in a unique way, as is Mary, to witness to the love and grace of God. All I do know is this, that I hold both you and Mary in very high esteem and I am so grateful for the witness that the two of you are giving, to God and to the body of Christ. You both are a gift Bill, and it is my honour and privilege to know you. Thank you so much for sharing your faith and the lessons you have and are learning. Trust me, when you speak, I listen. Grace and blessings!

  37. To live the life of St. Paul takes great courage, but as you so beautifully point out, one worth trying daily to achieve! Thank you for the beautiful meditation & reminder to do our utmost with great joy & with our ‘eye on the eternal prize!’ Hugs & Blessings dear cyber-space friend!

  38. Wow, Bill. You are such an incredible inspiration to me. I am so amazed by your strength and your love. I’m actually on the verge of tears as I type this on the bus.
    It’s so easy to lose hope and fall into self pity. When in reality, we have an awesome opportunity to have an eternity perspective. No matter what we endure here on earth, God loves us and he has a place set aside for us.
    Thank you for choosing to hold onto God, to hold onto hope, and to LIVE in the midst of your circumstances. Thank you for choosing to create a blog even when it takes you so very long to type your posts.
    You are a shining example to me of God’s love. Thank you for being the incredible man of God that you are and please tell your wife she’s amazing for me! What a strong and loving woman ❤️💪🏻

    I wish you the best, you’re in my prayers.

  39. This reminds me of Jim Elliot: you’re not a fool to give up temporary things which you’re going to lose eventually for something, that UNSHAKEABLE hope, that can never be taken away from you. Thanks for sharing how you think and face each day with courage and joy. May we do likewise, by His spirit

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